Community-based Initiatives and Interventions Champions Reproductive Health Choices
By LJ Rebadolla
September 26, 2023, Quezon City. The Forum, with the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) and Bayer Philippines, have banded together during World Contraception Day, to raise the discussion on family planning choices and reproductive health rights.
The Forum organized a series of online discussions, and today, the meat of the discussion is community-based initiatives advancing reproductive health choices.
Reproductive health choices are the foundation of every individual's welfare and autonomy, especially when we are talking about sexual and reproductive health and rights. But having accessible comprehensive and mass-oriented reproductive health information and services remains an issue in the Philippines. To immediately address these challenges, community-based initiatives and interventions take the forefront in promoting reproductive health choices and services in many Filipino communities.
As we celebrate World Contraception Day 2023, The Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. has organized a webinar series with the theme of "Life Choices," emphasizing the importance of reproductive health choices. The event is held in partnership with the Commission on Population Development and Bayer Philippines, highlighting in the webinar the collaborative efforts to advance reproductive health choices and community-based actions in Albay and Palawan.
Kookook Macatangay from The Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc., in her opening remarks, emphasized the significance of community-based interventions and actions in fostering family planning, sexual and reproductive rights, and health. Macatangay stressed the important role of community-based organizations in delivering services and advocating for sexual and reproductive rights and health.
The first topic explores the "Village Level Initiatives" through Albay Barangay Health Officers, as presented by Hazel Jennifer Rodriguez-Cardano, a Population Program Officer from Tabaco City, Albay. “Barangay initiatives have an important role in our program and the Barangay Reproductive Health officers (BRHO) are our secret weapon,” she said.
Ms. Cardano shared that ensuring that FP and RH services are well delivered where it is needed the most can be maximized by engaging the most valuable resource of the community, which is the people themselves. The BRHO are community health volunteers who contribute to meeting the primary health needs of residents. This includes case management, health education, health campaigns, and referrals to care.
Ms. Cardano also added that to ensure the sustainability of the initiative, the LGU committed support to BRHO by allocating funds to training, and learning sessions, to ensure that the community volunteers are well-equip with the information and skills they need. Likewise, the LGU also allocated funds to provide a stipend to the BRHO for their service to the community.
In the second part of the webinar, "Roots of Health Experience in Palawan: Community-Based Work on Women's Health and Rights," Jan Servando, Youth Director, and Sherry Villagracia, Clinical Director, shared their insights and experiences in championing the sexual and reproductive health and rights in the province of Palawan. Servando detailed their ultimate goal is "#MagandangKinabusan" for the youth, and it will achieved through education, services, and partnerships.
Sherry Villagracia elaborated on the services that the Roots of Health provide in communities. “Our program and services help the community especially the women become empowered and autonomous in their reproductive health choices,” she emphasized. “We train community people (mothers) to become health advocates,” she continued. Also, she highlighted the importance of barangay partnerships as a means to collaborate and connect with the community.
During the Q&A session, attendees raised questions about the challenges that they encounter during community-based interventions. Rodriguez-Cardano mentioned, “Often, the issue that arises is male involvement because the services are predominantly utilized by females." Then Villagracia added “Some LGUs have insufficient budget and funds for Family Planning, which is why their services for Family Planning in the communities they cover are limited. Aside from this, there are continuous stigma and misconceptions in the community.”
Jan Servando advised that being patient is important when dealing with opposition to sexual and reproductive rights and health advocacy, “It's an opportunity to educate them. That kind of conversation or questions ignites discussions,” he continued.
"All information is free and accessible to everyone. Sexuality education is free, and it's better to equip ourselves with various knowledge about sexuality and reproductive health because the more knowledgeable we are, the more empowered we become," Villagracia emphasized. In concluding the webinar, all three guest speakers emphasized the role of knowledge and education as the most powerful tool in championing sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially in Philippine society.
A common challenge faced by Tabaco City and Roots of Heath is how to go beyond cultural boundaries and beliefs. This calls for a doubled effort to respond to norms by using facts, pieces of evidence, and real-life stories to engage conservative segments of the community, through learning sessions, tailored-fit messages, peer education, and champion-building initiatives.
The webinar successfully delivered valuable insights into community-based action and interventions for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Community-based initiatives and intervention is essential in promoting comprehensive reproductive choices.
While there are a number of valuable interventions being done, we need to continue the discussion on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The experiences of Tabaco City, Albay, and Roots of Health in Palawan, can be a model of promising good practices that other community-based groups and LGUs can adopt. Together, let us continue to fight for and advocate sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Philippines, armed with knowledge and empowered to make life choices that matter.